Movie review: “Becoming Jane”

As an English lit graduate, I (paradoxically, perhaps) enjoy watching movies of the books we were not only force-fed during my undergrad years, but also forced ‘to critically analyse’ (split infinitive and everything).

Once I had learnt the language of ‘literary criticism’ and once I had figured out what our lecturers expected of us, I lost much of that intuitive enjoyment of reading. I forgot what a magical experience it was for me as a child to be entranced by a story, to become one with its characters and to follow them through their joys and sorrows, their frustrations and successes. It didn’t matter if it was a frowned upon Enid Blyton book, or a politically incorrect fairy tale, or a pseudo-historical epic with castles, dragonslayers and gallant knights. But having to look at every aspect of literature from an ironic and critical distance took away so much of the enjoyment that I almost stopped reading….

So thank goodness for movies!

“Becoming Jane”, a 2007 movie based on the life of Jane Austen (1775-1817), the much-loved British novelist who wrote about the society in which she lived, in a very distinctive, ironic and playful voice. The movie looks at her early life (early 20s), when Jane (played by Ann Hathaway) fell in love with the dashing rogue, Thomas Lefroy (played by James McAvoy), a young man whom her parents and her social circle regarded as entirely unsuitable for marriage.

Like all of Jane Austen’s books (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey), it depicted the difficulties experienced by women who did not wish to fit in with society’s expectations. There were few acceptable roles available for women; they were expected to find good (i.e. wealthy) husbands, to marry and bear children. Those who weren’t lucky in this regard (I would guess that there probably weren’t enough wealthy men to go around), were condemned to a lonely life as a spinster or an old maid (why do those words sound so dreadful, making it feel like a fate worse than death?).

There also weren’t that many options with regard to work: if one was poor, one worked in the fields or as a domestic servant; if one was wealthy, I suppose one held dinner parties and entertained other wealthy people. Yawn. It must have been awfully restrictive for any woman capable of independent thought and desirous of pursuing her own dreams.

There was even an Irish connection (a sigh of yearning….) in that the movie was filmed on location in Dublin and County Wicklow, because rural Ireland in that area most closely resembled Hampshire (where Jane actually lived). The scenes in and around the Steventon Rectory (where the Austen family lived), were in fact shot at a large house near Trim in County Meath, a few kilometres further north. 

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For other movies we’ve watched in March, click on:

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